Celebrating a High Water Mark: A Montana Stream Access Law Symposium

Grasshopper Creek with mountains in the background

On Friday, March 16, more than 120 participants assembled to commemorate Montana’s extraordinary stream access case law and legislation. Jim Goetz, the attorney who brought the landmark cases that recognized the public’s right to access state waters for recreational use, opened the event, followed by a roundtable of the original Stream Access Bill drafters and stakeholders, who discussed the key lessons to their success. Later panels covered legal ethics, subsequent developments in the law, and issues on the horizon such as climate change, tribal rights and instream flow. Governor Steve Bullock delivered closing remarks. Missoula Community Access Television (MCAT) shows the event (in 3-parts) on MCAT Channel 189. The event is also be available for viewing at MCAT's Video on Demand on MCAT's website:

Event Materials


The Role of Litigation in Shaping Stream Access - Jim Goetz, Goetz, Baldwin & Geddes P.C.
This opening talk captures the story of the events leading up to the landmark stream access decisions of Curran and Hildreth, the contours of those decisions, and the role of the 1972 Montana Constitution in public trust law.

The Story of Stream Access Legislation, Part I and II Roundtable of Key Participants
This guided discussion picks up after the Curran and Hildreth decisions, as various water stakeholders collaborated and negotiated over the landmark Stream Access Bill. Participants will share key moments and memories, including what ingredients catalyzed their decision to work together. Part II of the discussion will focus on key lessons and how we can apply those lessons to addressing the difficult natural resources issues of today.

  • Moderator: Ron Waterman, Attorney for Montana Stock Growers Association (during stream access)
  • Stan Bradshaw, Montana Staff Counsel, Montana Trout Unlimited
  • Tom Bugni, founding member, Montana Coalition for Stream Access
  • Bruce Crippen, former Montana State Senator
  • Stuart Doggett, Founder, Association Management Plus, Inc.
  • Jim Flynn, former Director, Montana Fish & Game 
  • Tony Schoonen Sr., former President, Montana Wildlife Federation
  • Tony Schoonen Jr., Lobbyist, Montana Wildlife Federation (during stream access)
  • Tom Towe, Attorney, Towe, Ball, Mackey, Sommerfeld & Turner, PLLP
  • Mary Wright, Lobbyist for Montana Council of Trout Unlimited (during stream access)

Ethics of Advising Landowners and Recreation Clients

  • Abigail Brown, Farve & Brown Law, PLLC
  • Dana Elias Pepper, River & Range Law

Subsequent Developments in Stream Access Law
This panel examines important developments in both stream access case law and legislation, including the activities that constitute recreational use, fencing for livestock, bridge access, and the definition of a water course. 

  • Moderator: Professor Michelle Bryan, Blewett School of Law
  • Mark Aagenes, The Nature Conservancy, formerly Montana Trout Unlimited
  • Bob Lane, former Chief Legal Counsel, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
  • Chief Water Judge Russ McElyea, Montana Water Court

What the Future May Hold for Stream Access
This final panel highlights unresolved issues in stream access, and important issues on the horizon, including climate implications, the role of tribal water governance, applying the doctrine to lakes, and connecting public trust to instream flow water rights. 

  • Professor Michelle Bryan, Blewett School of Law
  • Professor Monte Mills, Blewett School of Law
  • Professor Brian Chaffin, W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation

Closing Remarks - Governor Steve Bullock 

Montana Stream Access Law Symposium Photo Gallery

Photography by Jenni Chaffin